Kelowna’s Bob Ursel, third from left, with South Korea’s national men’s curling rink. -Image: Contributed

Kelowna’s Ursel to coach host team at Olympics

Bob Ursel is headed to the Olympics with South Korea’s national men’s curling team

As a player, Bob Ursel never made it to the Olympic Games.

Now as a coach, the 52-year-old curler from Kelowna is on the verge of living out a lifelong dream.

Ursel will guide the host country’s national men’s curling team next month at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Ursel, now in his third season coaching the Chang-Min Kim foursome, is grateful for what could well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It’s just great to be going, in any capacity,” said Ursel. “I never made it as a player, so it’s like a dream come true and I’m super excited.

“I feel pretty lucky,” he added. “I know it’s for a different country (than Canada), but I think it’s just going to be a great experience.”

Ursel spent five months coaching the Kim team during the 2015-16 season, then returned for another 12-week stint last season.

It was last spring that the young South Korean team realized a dream, winning their country’s national trials and qualifying for the Olympic Games.

“It was so satisfying,” Ursel said of the Korean team’s Olympic qualification. “They beat the team (Soo-Hyuk Kim) that had been national champions seven years in a row, so it was just a great accomplishment.”

Ursel, a three-time B.C. men’s champ as a player, has enjoyed watching the team evolve and believes the Chang-Min Kim rink has a legitimate chance to make it onto the podium.

The wild card, said Ursel, will be how well the young curlers cope with the pressure and distractions of playing in their home country.

“They’re a great group of guys, they’ve improved so much and it’s really gratifying,” he said. “I firmly believe they can medal.

“The million dollar question is how will they do with the pressure?” Ursel added. “It’s going to be pretty demanding, the media attention, the exposure will be like nothing they’ve seen. They’ve never played in front of more than 200 people. There’s going to be about 3,500 in the area there and TV and media, so we’ll see how they deal with that.”

From Ursel’s perspective, his main priority in Pyeongchang will be coaching the Korean men’s curling team. But that doesn’t mean the Kelowna man will restrict his Olympic experience to curling only.

“In talking to (former Olympians) Kevin Martin and Thomas Olsrud, they told us to make sure you enjoy the experience, don’t go in there too serious and forget about what’s going on around you,” he said. “When we have some down time, I’m going to go out and see some of the other events, experience the culture, just try and take it all in.

“You may never get the chance to do something like this again.”

Ursel and the Korean men’s team are in Camrose, AB this week for the Canadian Open, the last major event in North America before next month’s games.

The team will then spend the following two weeks practising in Canada, before heading to Pyeongchang, South Korea in early February.

The curling competition at 2018 Olympic Games is set for Feb. 14 to 25.

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